Much is said about supporting the development of a young child’s cognitive skills in order to prepare them for the transition to ‘big’ school, but did you know that social skills play an equally vital role in their school readiness as well as in how they navigate a more successful journey throughout their lives?

Let’s take a closer look at social skills, what they are, why they’re important and what you can do to help your child develop them.  We’ll also talk about the importance of the child’s early learning environment in terms of social skills development.

What are socialisation skills and why are they important?

Taking turns, sharing, co-operation, empathy, conflict resolution and behaviour management all fall under the banner of social skills.  

Adults use these skills on a daily basis to interact and communicate with others. They enable us to have positive interactions with other people, to establish and maintain relationships and to handle challenging or conflict situations effectively.  It’s the same with young children.

Social skills are a vital aspect of a young child’s overall development - and the adults in their lives can have a significant influence in how they build strong social capabilities.

Practical ways you can help a child develop social skills

There are plenty of things parents can do to facilitate the development of a young child’s social skills - particularly ahead of them going to childcare or an early learning centre or transitioning to more formal schooling.

These articles contain some great advice on your baby’s first day at daycare and how to prepare your three year old for kindergarten.  Ideally, when you choose a centre for your child, it should be a nurturing space where children are encouraged and supported to develop and learn at their own pace, according to their own interests and abilities.

Communication is key

Take every opportunity to chat to your little one throughout your day to explain why you are doing things from a social skills perspective.  “Look, I’m giving you a turn to stir the mixture”.  “It’s your turn to go first”.  “I’m going to sit quietly outside until I don’t feel cross anymore.”  “Let’s go and invite Sarah to play with us”.  “I’m going to ask Dad how he is feeling about this situation.”  “I feel OK that I didn’t win this game of snakes and ladders.  I’m going to try my best next time.”

Children learn by example and will mirror your behaviours, so it’s important for them to not only hear your explanations but also to see how you interact with others.

Create opportunities for socialisation

Create opportunities for your little one to get together with other babies and toddlers - and the earlier you start, the better.  Regular play dates, picnics in the park, community classes etc are all great ways to expose your child to others in a group setting. 

And if your child is uncertain about being in a larger group or is particularly shy, it’s a good idea to start with manageable one-on-one get togethers to build their self-confidence and their skills before they go to childcare or early school.

Help a child understand, acknowledge and communicate emotions

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions - and while it is a learnt skill, it is complex and doesn’t always come easily to everyone. 

Helping a child understand their emotions and helping them communicate their feelings in an appropriate way is an important foundation for social skills and for developing high emotional intelligence.  It’s also important for children to learn to recognise various emotions in others so that they can modify their own behaviours and respond appropriately.

Teach your child about conflict resolution

Life isn’t always a bed of roses and prickly situations are inevitable. Again, the very best way to teach a child is to set a good example.  They’ll model polite and respectful behaviour and will learn from the way the adults in their lives deal with a dispute or disagreement. 

Young children also need clear and consistent boundaries so that they can start to understand about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and responses in social situations.

Other ways you can help a child handle conflict include teaching them skills such as active listening, accepting fault when appropriate, how to give and accept an apology, being specific about the facts of the conflict (for example ‘you scribbled on my painting’, rather than ‘you always mess things up’), being assertive yet respectful and learning to compromise.

Teach your child about sharing and taking turns

Many young children find it difficult to share and take turns, but these are essential social skills. 

Sharing helps children develop a sense of consideration for others, it helps them value collaboration and co-operation, it encourages generosity of spirit and it helps them develop empathy.  Encourage your child to share their toys, their food etc and give lots of positive reinforcement when they do so.

As mentioned, children emulate adult behaviour so it’s important they see you sharing and taking turns.  Talk about situations where you are doing the sharing (‘Look, mummy is sharing her lollies with you’) and taking turns, so that they so that they follow your lead.

Youngsters who attend childcare and early school environments which embrace values like respect, empathy, trust, teamwork and collaboration are more likely to develop stronger social skills.  If you’re looking at childcare or early education options for your child, you may find this article on why high-quality childcare matters for a child’s development helpful.   

Helping your child develop a sense of empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings - and it’s an important social skill.   When you’re reading a story with your child, stop and chat about the different characters’ feelings.  Ask your child how they think each one is feeling and why it’s important to see things from another person’s perspective.

You can also help your child develop a sense of empathy during times of conflict or dispute.  Talk about how people have different points of view and why every person deserves to be treated with respect, kindness and tolerance.

How childcare providers play a role in establishing a child’s social skills

A nurturing childcare environment will help young children master vital social skills so that they have positive interactions with others around them and start to build friendships.  At Evoke Early Learning’s two child care centres in Albert Park and Clayton, you’ll find warm and welcoming spaces, staffed by highly experienced educators who are passionate about making sure that each child thrives.  We advocate for the rights of all children, valuing, embracing and respecting every one as a unique individual and active member of society - and we invite you to book a tour to experience our special Evoke way of life and meet our team.